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For the love of Tony: Northeast Ohio community comes together to help treasured teacher dealing with treatments for brain tumor

Global manufacturer Swagelok steps in to take students under their wing.

CLEVELAND — Tony Sambunjak is one of those teachers you never forget.

“He’s an excellent person. He’s always there and he cares a lot for his students,” said Jacob Yaeger, one of Sambunjak’s students.

Twenty-one years as a precision machining instructor at Polaris Career Center, Tony gets his students ready for the workforce or for an advanced degree. There is a nationwide demand for people in the machining trades.

“He has a true passion and love for machining that he wants to share with high school students to be the next group of machinists out in our area. He really is a great man,” said Bob Timmons, Polaris Superintendent.

In June, Tony Sambunjak got engaged. It should have been the start of an amazing summer. But days later, he suffered a seizure and was taken to the hospital. The news was devastating.

“I had a tumor in my brain,” Sambunjak explained.

The tumor was a glioblastoma, one of the most difficult types of brain tumors to treat. Surgery and radiation would follow, but Sambunjak was determined to be back and teaching in August. His plan: To schedule his radiation treatments after class.

“The thought of me leaving and not being able to finish the year was what was breaking my heart,” Sambunjak said.

The administration supported Sambunjak.

Credit: Tony Sambunjak
Tony Sambunjak has been teaching precision maching at Polaris for 21 years. He loves teaching and working with his students.

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“We cry a lot here. We know each other at a very intimate level. And when you start seeing, not only your co-worker, but your friend in pain. You really have the true feeling of our staff coming out,” said Bob Timmons.

For the love of Sambunjak, Polaris staff mobilized. Their goal? To relieve some of their co-worker’s worry and workload. They reached out to global manufacturer, and longtime partner Swagelok, where Polaris students have interned before.

Swagelok came through.

Credit: Swagelok
Polaris students have interned at Swagelok over the past several years. When the company heard about Tony's plight. They offered paid internships to his seniors.

“We feel honored that Polaris would come to us and ask us for support,” said Gwen Burg, Swagelok’s Hourly Workforce Development Manager.

That support? Paid internships to Sambunjak's entire senior class. Students leave Polaris during the day to get hands on training at Swagelok, where they are paid $15 an hour. And later this year, Swagelok will interview the junior class, for possible summer part-time work and fall internships.

“We really want the students to continue to get the learning that they would be getting at Polaris, but now with the hands-on activities as well at Swagelok,” Burg said.

Credit: Swagelok
Jacob Yaeger and Tyler Houghton are 2 of 13 seniors with paid internships at Swagelok.

“Swagelok took them under their wing and they're, they're training them. They're at their company, hopefully grooming a great workforce for them down the road,” Sambunjak said.

He still sees his Swagelok students. They are blossoming and on the right path.

“Swagelok brought us in and we got to know the whole machining industry and got to learn new equipment and new machines and techniques,” said Polaris senior Tyler Houghton.

Credit: Polaris
Tony Sambunjak says he's not living on borrowed time. He insists he is living on real time. Making the most of every day, still enjoying the job he does.

“It’s unbelievable how everybody has come together. It’s amazing,” Sambunjak shared.

The news couldn’t be better. In fact, Sambunjak’s latest scans brought encouraging news. Thought his battle is far from over, Sambunjak’s positive attitude puts everything in perspective.

“You know, somebody said to me, ‘You are living on borrowed time.’ That’s what somebody told me early on. I said, ‘No. It’s not borrowed time. I’m living on real time.’ Every day I enjoy it to the best of my ability,” he said.

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